Baseball’s Winter Meetings are over, but the battle between Minor and Major League Baseball rages on.
Friday evening, MiLB fired off a four-page rebuttal to a dozen points raised in negotiations for a new Professional Baseball Agreement between the sides and, in their view, in disparaging public comments, e-mails, and photographs coming from MLB commissioner Rob Manfred and his deputy, Dan Halem, in San Diego this past week.
The sides engaged in both formal and informal discussions last Friday at the start of the meetings about their PBA, which is set to expire next September and which drew public outcry when it was revealed MLB proposed stripping 42 teams across the country of their major-league affiliation.
On Monday, MiLB president Pat O’Conner expressed cautious optimism, saying talks were productive. On Tuesday, Halem spoke with the Globe, and on Wednesday, Manfred addressed reporters.
“MLB has repeatedly and inaccurately stated the position of MiLB,” their missive began, “with respect to several key areas under consideration in the PBA negotiations.”
Halem turned over to the Globe an internal e-mail from Carolina League president Geoff Lassiter, asking its 10 teams if any had interest in exploring a sale of their club to establish a new franchise in Wilmington, N.C. In MLB’s opinion, the e-mail — dated late last month, while minor-league owners were decrying MLB’s contraction proposal — demonstrated that minor-league owners were willing to move teams from their communities with no compunction, and do so frequently.
While turning over the e-mail could also be seen as retaliation for media revelations from October about an in-progress team list that Halem sent to MiLB president Pat O’Conner in confidence, MiLB said the e-mail Halem revealed was more damning to MLB’s stance.
“It was not an offer for teams to relocate, but rather a request for an expression of interest,” said MiLB’s statement. “What MLB failed to disclose [after making the assertion that MiLB team owners jump from city to city in search of a better deal], were the responses to the very e-mail they shared, which were that more MLB-owned teams reported an interest in relocating than non-MLB owned teams.”
According to multiple industry sources, three of the five Carolina League teams that expressed interest in exploring a move to Wilmington are MLB-owned teams.
Halem showed to the Globe 21 color photographs of shoddy or unsafe conditions and facilities at minor-league ballparks. Three of them were from two Appalachian League teams: The Kingsport (Tenn.) Mets and Bristol (Va.) Pirates.
Major League Baseball owns the 10-team Appalachian League. Teams effectively lease the franchises, and are responsible for their upkeep and maintenance. In other words, those two MLB franchises allowed those facilities to deteriorate. The 42-team hit list includes nine of the 10 Appalachian League teams.
Said the MiLB: “In many cases, MiLB teams have already worked with their MLB counterpart to address special needs, despite no contractual obligation to do so. As in many cases with MLB’s argument, they fail to acknowledge issues are not a matter of non-compliance, but rather a point to be addressed in a new set of standards.”
And, said MiLB, it “has offered on multiple occasions to discuss and negotiate reasonable facility standards in the next agreement to address any unmet needs of MLB. Minor League Baseball has never expressed to MLB an unwillingness to address new standards and improvements in facilities.”
Manfred professing chagrin about learning minor-leaguers sometimes traveled by school bus was met with derision.
“Despite the Commissioner’s repeated misleading statements to the contrary, no minor league player in affiliated baseball is transported on a school bus,” MiLB wrote. “The only situation where MLB-contracted players travel by school bus or passenger van occurs in MLB-owned and operated leagues in Florida [Gulf Coast League], Arizona [Arizona Summer League], and the Dominican Republic [Dominican Summer League].”
As for MLB’s Dream League, a plan to place unaffiliated players in teams in place of many of the affected cities, MiLB continued to use nightmarish language about the concept, declaring it “nothing more than a shell game designed to conceal . . . the elimination of professional baseball in 42 communities across the country.”
Talks began in March. MiLB sounded the alarm in October about MLB’s proposal, which would affect mostly Single A and short season clubs, including the Lowell Spinners. Halem said on Tuesday that Lowell is not guaranteed to be on any list.